Q&A with Julie Nelson: Women's History Month 2022

Synopsys Editorial Staff

Mar 22, 2022 / 7 min read

Julie Nelson is a technologist, a storyteller, and a priest. Her north star is upholding human dignity wherever she goes. As a senior employee communications specialist, her breadth of interests found a great fit at Synopsys. Today, she helps craft and distribute messaging across the entire employee base, including communications from the leadership team. She is also a member of the Synopsys Inclusion & Diversity (I&D) Team, managing all internal I&D communications at a global level for the company.

As a part of Women’s History Month and our Q&A series for International Women’s Day, we recently sat down with Julie to get her take on storytelling, inclusion and diversity, and the power of “yes.”

Q&A with Julie Nelson

Q. Can you tell me about your journey and how you came to Synopsys?

A. After receiving my undergraduate degree in information systems from California State University, Fresno, I thought that I was going to be a database designer. Charles Schwab hired me out of school to do technical support for their first trading software program. As I grew into a more senior position, I trained people, and before long I was designing the training. Through that experience, my manager spotted that I was a good technical writer, something I’d never considered. And that kicked off a serious career in technical writing. When multimedia came into play, my technical writing career morphed into video production. After I started producing leadership team videos, internal communications was a natural next step.

I also work part-time as an Episcopal priest. My work here at Synopsys parallels my work giving sermons: I can take really complicated and – to some – boring information, and make it engaging and easy to understand for a broad audience.

Q. What do you love about your job at Synopsys?

A. I love telling stories and meeting new people, which is perfect for what I do. I’m an extrovert and my role in internal communications means that I get to meet people from all parts of the company. I get to learn about the cool things they are doing and the impact it has on the company, our customers, and the world. I also get to hear about things before everybody else does, and I love having the inside scoop.

My work is fun because I’m a technologist and I love technology. I’m good at my job because when an engineer tells me a bunch of complicated stuff, I mostly understand it. But what makes me love this job is that everybody I’ve come across at Synopsys has been thoughtful and intentional and kind and helpful. If they don’t have an answer, they’ll get you to the person who does. It’s a place where I feel like we’re all in this together, working towards the same goal. I could do this work anywhere, but there’s a positivity here that makes me stay.

Q. How did you come to be part of the I&D Team at Synopsys?

A. It all started at a previous employer who was beginning to do some serious I&D work. The woman who founded the program asked me to be a thought partner and to help with some of the program’s internal communications. That’s how I became a “friend of the I&D Team.” The more I learned about the I&D work, the more passionate I became about it. I mean, I’m a clergy person. I’m innately passionate about people. And I’m passionate about our baptismal covenant of upholding the dignity of every human being. It’s something that’s meaningful to me. It’s what I strive to do every day, both in and out of work. So when I came to Synopsys, one of the first things I asked about was, “What are we doing about I&D, and how can I be part of it?”

Q. How did COVID effect your I&D efforts?

A. COVID started when the I&D program at Synopsys was beginning to gain momentum. The greatest way to tell the kind of I&D stories I work on is through video because you get to meet a person. You can see their mannerisms and hear their voice and get a fuller picture of the emotion behind the words in a way that’s not possible with the written word. My approach in non-pandemic times would have been to take my camera and my lighting setup and do employee interviews in person. But with COVID, that wasn’t possible.

We did some of the stories through Zoom, and although we had some meaningful results, it was more difficult to capture the essence. And that’s important because it can be a fine line to get it right. To do it right, you need to get to know people, hear their stories, and find ways to tell them that honor who they are and their experience. It is very personal. And at the same time, it’s not personal because our company objective in telling these stories is to make Synopsys a place where everyone feels safe. So you have to learn to navigate that line.

Q. How did you come to study theology?

A. I’ve known since high school that I was supposed to be a priest, but I was Roman Catholic, so that was a little bit of a challenge. After attending the Episcopal church and realizing that I could be ordained, I left my technical writing career and went to seminary. I had two very small children, which was insane. When I finished seminary, I worked as a full-time clergy for a couple of years. Then my life got a bit complicated, and I needed to be able to care for my family in ways that I couldn’t while working full-time in a clergy job. So, I came back to Silicon Valley, because I knew I could work here.

That’s when I landed in video production for my previous employer’s internal comms team, and my career grew from there. But you know, I still work part time as a priest. And what I have found is that I’m a priest everywhere I go, even if people don’t know that about me. My primary function in the world is to care for people and that comes out. In fact, because co-workers needing a reprieve often found their way to me for a desk-side chat, somebody at my last job hung up an image of Lucy from the Peanuts cartoon near my desk saying, “The Doctor Is In.”

Q. What are some of the challenges for technology companies trying to achieve greater inclusion and diversity?

A. Companies believe that they don’t meet their diversity targets because the pipeline doesn’t have the right candidates. And that’s not always true. The pipeline has candidates in it. But we aren’t always aware of our biases—it’s why they call it unconscious bias. We’re not always aware of how we can make our interview process more friendly to diverse candidates. And we’re not always as intentional as we need to be about seeking out diverse candidates. Yes, the pipeline doesn’t have as many diverse people in it as we would like. That doesn’t mean that the pipeline doesn’t have them. It means that we have to work a lot harder to find them.

At Synopsys, we’re doing hard, thoughtful, and intentional work to understand the kinds of things we need to do in the identity space and how best to do it. I’m committed to being part of this effort at Synopsys and seeing what kind of difference we can make because Synopsys is the kind of place where the difference is going to matter. Over the next 5 or 10 years as the company evolves, as we hire more young people, we need to make sure that people love to be here. I want to help make that happen.

Q. Do you have any advice for young people who may be graduating or coming up in their careers?

A. In the beginning of my career, I had beliefs about who I was and who I was going to be. But then as new opportunities presented themselves, and I discovered my natural talents, the journey turned out quite different from what I had expected. And, although I didn’t end up designing databases like I thought I would, it’s been a wonderful journey of discovery and growth, and I’m doing exactly what I’m good at doing.

My advice is to say yes to opportunities. If someone tells you that you seem to be really good at something and asks you to be part of it, even if you don’t feel qualified, say yes. I did that with training. And then when my manager told me she thought I would be good at technical writing, I got a technical writing job. And then, when an engineering manager, said to me, I think video is the next big thing, I took classes and learned how to use the equipment and developed a whole new skill around video production that I hadn’t previously known anything about.

I’m not an expert at anything. But today, I’m really good at a lot of different things. That’s how communications professionals get good at communications: I have just enough Photoshop skills to make a graphic when I need it. I have just enough video production skills to tell somebody’s story. I have solid enough writing skills to create an article or write an email in someone else’s voice. I use all of these skills I’ve picked up along the way.

So my advice to people is to listen to what other people tell you about yourself. Be open to what they say and to following new paths. You’ll get somewhere that you never could have imagined. Especially as a young person, I wouldn’t have known I was good at writing, but then someone told me about it. I believed enough to say yes, and then to give it a try.

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